Skip to main content

Full text of "My country and my people"

See other formats

THE    CHINESE    PEOPLE                   37
Kuofan (1811-1872), this family ideal of industry and frugality and living the simple life persisted and was recognized as the soundest moral heritage of the nation. The family system somehow wove itself into the rural pattern of life and could not be separated from it. Simplicity was a great word among the Greeks, and simplicity, shunp'o, was a great word among the Chinese. It was as if man knew the benefits of civilization and knew also the dangers of it. Man knew the happiness of the joys of life, but also was aware of its ephemeral nature, fearful of the jealousy of the gods, and was willing to take the joys that were simpler but would last longer. For to enjoy too many good things of life was, according to the Chinese, to chehfo) or decrease one's lot of happiness in this life. Therefore "one should be just as careful in choosing one's pleasures as in avoiding calamities." "Choose the lighter happiness," said a scholar at the end of the Ming Dynasties, and somehow there was an echo of consent in the Chinese breasts. For human happiness is so precarious that the retreat to nature and simplicity is the best safeguard for it. It must be so, and the Chinese knew it by instinct. They wanted survival for their families, and they achieved it for their nation.
It would seem, therefore, that the Chinese, as a people, avoided the dangers of civic deterioration by a natural distrust of civilization and by keeping close to primitive habits of life. This might suggest that the so-called Chinese civilization must be understood in a greatly modified sense, that it was a civilization in love with primitivism itself and was not quite ready to say good-bye to it. Certainly it was not a civilization that had guaranteed the people peace without intermittent periods of bloodshed and disorder, or that had made wars and famines and floods impossible.
That a country after two thousand years of comparatively civilized living could furnish living material for such a story as All Men Are Brothers, when the eating of human flesh, though rare, was still possible, certainly reveals in a measure the